THE BUSINESS NEED: Communicating with aid workers in remote places while being as transparent as possible was an ongoing logistical challenge for the charity.
THE SOLUTION: With Microsoft Office 365 as the platform, Ergo provided GOAL with a suite of cloud-based communication tools and customised applications that are tailored to its unique requirements.
THE BENEFITS: The Ergo deployment has led to a 15-20 per cent improvement in personal productivity from its 1,500 field workers, saving GOAL hundreds of thousands of Euros. More importantly, operations are more transparent and effective, saving lives and making a difference.
Coordinating Relief Efforts in the Philippines
The Haiti earthquake in 2010 posed enormous challenges for aid agencies that battled to help three million people in a country where the infrastructure had largely been destroyed. Rob Lacey, IT Manager at GOAL, remembered how a dedicated IT person was sent from Dublin to give on-the-ground aid workers email communications that were vital for managing the agency’s relief effort.
“When they first arrive, the emergency response team assess the severity of the situation and communicates back to us what is needed – whether the priority is water or shelter, for example. So email is the lifeline of our organisation,” he said. “We sent someone out and they spent a month setting up a domain, an email server and the user accounts.”
Fast forward three years and GOAL arrived in the Philippines after another catastrophic natural disaster, but this time they are instantly ready to start work. The difference is Office 365. “The domain name was all ready for them before they got there so all the emergency coordinator needed to do was go online and set in motion the supply chain and logistics to get the help that was needed,” he said.
Darren Hanniffy, an emergency response manager who went to Haiti, explained that the demand for business critical solutions is as crucial for GOAL as any other business – except the stakes are higher and the working environment much more hostile. “People don’t realise that aid agencies have complex requirements like other industries. We handle millions of euro and have very stringent controls and procurement procedures. The difference is that we often have to run them on the ground, in terrible conditions, open to the elements,” he said.
Moving all-important IT support to a cloud model has delivered tangible operational benefits, according to Hanniffy. “You just switch it on and it works; all the information you need is readily at hand. Communication is easy and it speeds up processes. In the Philippines we were on the ground and operational in days. Office 365 improved our ability to react and made us far more dynamic,” he said.
Unlike Haiti, the impact of the Philippines disaster was much more geographically dispersed, which meant the GOAL team was spread out across different islands, moving from one location to another. “Without Office 365 we would have been out of contact for periods and it wouldn’t have been technically possible to maintain the high level of communications access we needed,” he said.
Two years after Office 365 was deployed, Rob Lacey is delighted at how it has transformed GOAL operations. “We see other agencies struggling with legacy systems, so we are very pleased we made the move when we did,” he said.
THE BUSINESS NEED
For over 35 years, GOAL has been running humanitarian programmes across the globe, assisting the poorest of the poor and those suffering from the effects of war and natural disaster. The administrative hub for the charity is its Dublin headquarters, but it’s the 1,500 aid workers operating in 13 countries that are pivotal to the success of its projects. They range from project managers, to nutritionists, administrative personnel and engineers, often located in the most remote corners of the world, from Uganda to Haiti.
Like any organisation, an aid agency needs to communicate with its workforce, keeping them up to speed with projects and funding, leveraging their collective expertise to share knowledge and maximise resources. At the same time, the charity has strict regulatory requirements and a need for transparency around donor funding.
“Having such a dispersed workforce makes all of this very hard,” said Robert Lacey, IT Manager for GOAL. “Despite regular evaluations of IT operations, we were struggling to move forward and all our resources were going on firefighting.”
Something as fundamental as email was a logistical nightmare with field workers relying on disparate webmail accounts. With just Lacey and a colleague running the internal IT, up to 70 per cent of their time was spent sorting out helpdesk queries around email.
“Every country set up a separate POP account. It wasn’t centralised and we had to work off spreadsheets if people moved or wanted password resets. Domain names were all over the place.” said Lacey.
Even worse, limits on web-based mailboxes were too restrictive for an organisation that regularly shares reports ranging in size from 2-5MB. An early attempt to a build an online document repository had failed because it was too hard to use, but Lacey was constantly on the lookout for ways to facilitate sharing and collaboration.
Fortunately for GOAL, the relentless pace of technology was catching up with its requirements. The advent of cloud computing promised a solution that was delivered by Ergo with Microsoft Office 365.
As a Microsoft house, there was the appeal of the familiar, but there was more to it than that, according to Lacey. “We spent six months evaluating other web-based services and having lots of conversations. I didn’t see any benefits in going with anything over the Microsoft and Ergo proposition,” he said.
In the most crucial phase of the project, Ergo engineers migrated all GOAL’s 1,500 IT users to Office 365. After two months of behind-the-scenes technical work, registering every user with password and protocols appropriate to the operating system, software and laptops they were using — 32 and 64-bit, typically running Windows 7 and Office 2010 — they were seamlessly moved over in a single weekend.
Email was just the tip of the iceberg; Ergo also deployed Microsoft Lync 2010, the suite of Unified Communications tools within Office 365. Microsoft SharePoint was also part of the package, collaboration software that has enabled Lacey to realise his plan for a web-based portal that could provide GOAL with a central hub for sharing documents across the organisation.
Early iterations of SharePoint online were difficult to tailor to specific requirements, but Ergo has shown how the technology has evolved, customising the software and building three integrated applications for GOAL.
A company intranet was the first step. All 1,500 aid workers can log on, share information and access an extensive collection of sites and sub sites. A home page keeps users up to speed with GOAL news, while drop down menus access country-specific information as well as broader based HR and grant management systems.
The employee management system provides a comprehensive source of content, from introduction packs for new staff to performance review documents. Adapting SharePoint’s standard interface, everything is searchable using a variety of criteria, from payroll number to country and email address.
The grant management solution replaced a creaking management information system. Authorised staff use SharePoint navigation controls to access information on financial spends and forecasts from GOAL’s accounting system. Figures can be matched to relevant grants for accurate and up to date performance reports on specific projects.
A three-stage grant application process can also be actioned from within the system. You can then follow a project through, monitoring the budget over the lifetime of its execution.
Such tools have been transformational to GOAL, affecting the way every employee and voluntary worker goes about their business. Adoption has been fast and enthusiastic, aided by Office 365 training videos, also accessed through SharePoint. Ease of use was important according to Darren Hannify. “It’s simple to use and not a leap into the unknown – it doesn’t require huge technical support and training. We have workers with varying levels of technological competence so it has to be a system that is easily picked up,” he said.
Relying on governments and international institutions to fund humanitarian projects, GOAL has to be as transparent and efficient as possible, a difficult task when 1,500 frontline workers are dispersed around the globe.
Ergo and Office 365 have made it possible. GOAL has transformed itself from a linear organisation, where communications went into the head office and then out again, to a web-centric entity, where individuals have an array of tools to share and collaborate across dispersed locations.
Robert Lacey calculates that this has led to a 15-20 per cent improvement in personal productivity, saving as much as two hours a day. “Multiply that by 1,500 and you’re talking about saving hundreds of thousands of Euros,” he said.
The Philippines highlighted how email, the most basic Office 365 offering, has been transformed by taking it to the cloud. “It is the lifeline of our organisation and it has never gone down since it was deployed,” he said.
Lync 2010 has also changed the way people work. As well as the cost savings that come with internet-based communications, there is the flexibility of features. Sharing desktops for discussing documents and Instant Messaging have become standard ways to communicate.
“The feedback from people in the field has been phenomenal,” said Lacey. “Video calling is a bit of an issue because we’re often working with bandwidth constraints in remote regions, but we are looking at it for our weekly calls with country directors.”
SharePoint has also been a great success. A central repository for all documentation has had a profound effect on GOAL, not just on the way people work, but on the charity’s governance. Because it had been so reliant on email, there was no version control and multiple copies of documents were spread across the world in different mailboxes.
“We had one example where a document was saved in seven locations prior to getting to the head office. With Office 365, we have gone from having nothing to out-of-the-box compliance,” said Lacey. “GOAL has always adhered to the strictest auditory requirements and we finally have a system that compliments this.”
Ergo’s customised SharePoint solutions have brought further benefits. The integration of the grant system with financials has given the business a 360-degree view of projects that was impossible before. The employee system has been invaluable for an organisation where aid workers are frequently on the move, often at very short notice.
The cumulative effect of having all information hosted in a central repository means that a field worker can go into a new country much better prepared. They can identify and search out colleagues who have been there before, visit the country’s mini-site to get a feel for the place and consult the grant system for the project finances. “In the Philippines, new people arrived at locations and instantly accessed information relevant to their roles. It’s all online; there are no physical manuals,” he said.
Another strength of Office 365 is that it provides a platform for continuous improvement, allowing GOAL to add features and develop new applications. The agency is now looking to replace its PBX and use Lync as its on-premise telephone system.
Lacey is also working on a supply chain module in SharePoint, a procurement application that will be accessible from smartphones and tablets, enabling aid workers to put in item requests from out in the field. “The data will populate a global database, not only speeding up the procurement process but also giving us insights into the variations between different countries. It will allow us to make better decisions going forward,” he said.
The Office 365 deployment has been a resounding success for GOAL and Lacey is quick to praise Ergo for the part it played. “We built up a great relationship with Ergo engineers who helped us solve problems as we went along. They understood our challenges and what we wanted to do and designed a solution around it,” he said.
“We have worked with other people who pushed pre-packaged solutions that were inappropriate for a charity. They would try to force their product on to us and change the way we work. Ergo never did that.”
Learn more about GOAL's work in the Philippines and donate to the relief effort here.
Watch a short video about the work GOAL have done so far in the Philippines here.